Mary Glover Bibby

Well, this is not really an enquiry, but a sharing of information.

As part of our Waipawa 150th celebrations I put together an exhibition of Mary Glover Bibby art work. I had paintings and sketches lent to me by various members of the Bibby family and also wrote out a brief story of her life.

My cousin Claire Bibby is in the process of writing a book about our great grandmother, and I used a lot of her research to write this – and also stories told to me by my mother and my aunts.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with information, paintings, photos and moral support…

Here is what I wrote for the exhibition…

Mary Glover Bibby

Mary Glover Bibby (nee Tod) was born in Kirkaldy, Scotland on 3 March 1867.

Her father, John Tod, was a sea captain of a Scottish based whaling business and when the whaling business struck hard times, he packed himself up, left his wife of ten years, and immigrated to New Zealand.

He left his wife Anne in Scotland, to raise three small children on her own.

Mary and her family moved three times before she was six years old, possibly because her mother was dependant on the support of her extended family. They ended up living in London.

Mary attended four different schools between the ages of five and eleven, but from the age of 11 – 17½ Mary was fortunate to attend the famous North London Collegiate School. It was while she was at this elite school that she had formal art lessons.

When she left school Mary wanted to take up missionary work, but her health was poor, so she settled instead to doing charitable work in the slums of London.
During this time her health suffered, and after a spell of illness her doctors advised a long sea voyage.

She was fortunate having two uncles Robert Tod and James Tod who both lived in Otane (then known as Kaikora). So she set sail for New Zealand to stay with them.
On her journey across the ocean she often sketched the scenes around her and she faithfully kept a diary of her day.

She arrived in Kaikora at the end of April 1891. She found New Zealand vastly different from the streets of London which she had left behind.

Saturday, May 2nd, 1891
“What a difference between our woods and the New Zealand bush. Strange tangled growths on every side and not a plant familiar except the great pines which had conquered the undergrowth and rose up high and beautiful towards the sky. The bush hangs over with great festoons and tufts of lichen and snake-like creepers stretch from tree to tree and from the ground upwards. It is hard work to push your way through the thorny bushes but the whole scene is like a botanist’s garden run wild.”

Wednesday, August 19th, 1891
“…The houses are of all descriptions but big, little, poor or rich they are one-storey little wooden houses to English eyes. Some are log huts, neither more nor less, but some are neat with nice gardens and smart verandas. Around these townships are forest of blackened stumps and blackened skeletons of trees, but some fields are sure to be almost entirely free of stumps, and there sheep and cows are feeding…”

Mary was 24 when she arrived in New Zealand and single.
She was short in stature and had a nicely rounded figure. Her reddish-gold hair waved softly above the face noticeable for its rosy cheeks and bright blue twinkling eyes.

Being a new girl to the country, Mary was soon visited by young men – one of these was her future husband James Bibby.

James Bibby’s parents owned the Bibby store in Waipawa and James, their eldest son, had the distinction of being the second white child born in Waipawa.

James, it was said was a quiet sort of guy and perhaps a little shy. The family legend has it, that he did not make his intentions of marriage known to Mary, until she almost boarded a ship to return to England.

She returned to England in 1892, told her mother of her engagement and then set sail once more for New Zealand.

James, who had heard of her impending return, couldn’t wait for her to reach New Zealand, so he set sail to meet her in Melbourne where they married.

When they returned to Waipawa they moved into the house on Rose Street which originally was being built for James’ parents as a retirement home, but when their son got married they decided to gift their brand new house to the newly wedded couple.

At the time the house was thought to be quite a show place with its lovely views of Waipawa and with running water in a lead sink and real drain. (It was the first house in Waipawa to have indoor plumbing!)

But although it was said to be very grand, Mary was said not to have liked it – as it did not have a ‘lovely veranda’ like other colonial houses of the time, but rather had been built to a very grand English Edwardian style.

It was in this house that Mary and James brought up a family of six sons and one daughter.

Mary had very modern ideas on child rearing. She did not believe in smacking children, nor any form of corporal punishment.

Her sons sometimes sorely tested their parents on this issue and one of her sons reported, by this time himself an old man, that the closest he and his brothers ever got to ‘getting a hiding’ from his father, was once when they had taken a hammer and smashed all the tiles on a wash stand. His father was very cross!

Because of this stand on corporal punishment Mary’s children did not attend the local school until they were High School aged. Instead Mary and James had a school room built on to the back of their home, and they employed a governess, who took lessons there for the Bibby children and some of the neighbouring children.

Mary was very good friends with Mrs Dr Todd (with two d’s) who lived down the bottom of the street at ‘The Pines’.

Both women were involved in the Temperance movement and campaigned strongly against ‘the demon drink’. It was probably because of this that they were reported to be the first women in Waipawa to vote when women finally won the right to vote in an election.

In 1910 Sir Truby King, the founder of the Plunket Society, visited Waipawa and the idea that Waipawa needed its own Plunket Rooms was born. To begin with babies visited a clinic in the Bibby Store and a Plunket Health Nurse traveled down from Hastings.

In 1926 that the first Waipawa Branch of Plunket was formed, with Mary Glover Bibby as their first president. In fact, the first ever Plunket meeting was held in the dining room of Mary’s home!

Later that year after Mary donated the land in Kennilworth Street, and the Lissie Rathbone Estate gifted the money needed for the cost of the building, Waipawa’s Plunket Rooms were opened with its own resident Plunket Nurse.

Mary became known as one of the best known church workers in the district, the house being visited by many of the world’s best known temperance workers and missionaries.

Mary and James attended the Waipawa Church of England services, but later became members of the Waipawa Presbyterian Church where she taught Bible Study and children’s Sunday School.

It was for a series of Sunday School lessons that she painted pictures to illustrate the stories of Mary Slessor, Tarore, and the creation story.

The farm was a great holiday place for Mary and her growing family. Uncle Tom built the existing Lunesdale homestead and left the cottage (later used as shearers quarters). This was a basic 3 bedroom house and in the summer Mary and her young family (and a maid) took up residence.

The children could explore the countryside and be involved in their uncles’ farm activities. Mary could paint and James could ride up for the weekends.

In 1921 the first Women’s Institute was formed at Rissington. In the early days when there was only one federation for the whole of New Zealand, Mary was an energetic member of the first Executive Committee. With her children growing up, the Women’s Institute provided Mary an opportunity to further share her talents and gifts.

Women’s Institute gave women the skills they needed to run meetings in the way men ran meetings. Women had a voice. Mary wrote speeches and spoke to men’s and women’s groups.

Her artwork graced the cover of the Women’s Institute magazines.

In 1925 the Waipawa CWI was formed and Mary was elected president. She held that office for nine years.

In 1928 a competition was held for an original poem by an Institute member, the words to be suitable for an Institute song. Nobody was surprised when Mary’s entry “Comrades and Friends” was the winning entry.

In 1935 Mary was the recipient of the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal for service to the community through Women’s Institute, Plunket and Church groups.

Kairakau Beach was one of the Bibby’s favourite places to go on holiday.

James had discovered Kairakau as a great fishing spot. Later the family camped there and Mary discovered the joy of painting the rugged landscape and the ever changing seas. They bought a one room batch and a tent provided more sleeping space for a large family.

Over the years extra rooms were added and it became a gathering place for Mary’s family and numerous cousins and friends.

Mary died in 1937 at her beloved Kairakau.

Her son, Ted, wrote in his diary:

“Sunday such a day of light and shadows the beautiful day… I talked to mother as she rested on her bed looking out to sea. We talked of the falling off of Church attendance, the arrival of visitors…”

He had tea and walked along the beach and that evening he played cards with his parents.

“I was so pleased I went home [to the beach house] and said goodnight.
Then the jerk.
Mother is getting a turn, come quickly.
I held my mother in my arms… I felt it was all I could do.
I said “Though I walk through the shadow of death I will fear no evil.”
Mother gasped but joyous words “Oh yes,”
The labouring breath began to lessen and I kissed and kissed her hair. I knew she was passing away but I did not know when.”

So Mary Glover Bibby ended her life in her son’s arms, looking out the window over the Kairakau seas that she had painted for so many years.

If you have more stories about Mary Glover Bibby, or photos, paintings etc which you would like to share please email me. I would love to hear from you.

J Jan